To be fearless, just ask yourself ‘what is it that you are afraid of losing’?
At a Talk that I delivered recently, a young lady asked me how to deal with insecurity and fear. She said she often spent long spells of time imagining stuff that could possibly happen to her – a pink slip, a health setback, a relationship problem, her son failing in school and such.
“I know it is stupid to be this way. But how does one get rid of ‘worst-case scenarios’ from your head,” she asked.
I, in turn, asked her: “What is the worst that can happen to you?”
She thought for a moment and replied: “Two things – either my son can die or I can die. Yes, these are my worst-case scenarios.”
My next question to her was this: “Is there anything that you can do to prevent these scenarios from ever happening in your Life?”
Again she thought about it deeply and exclaimed: “No. Seriously, noooooooooooo!”
I asked her: “So why worry and fear about something that you can’t prevent?”
And that is really how you get rid of worst-case scenarios in your head. To be sure, the human mind can beat any Bollywood screenwriter in terms of conjuring up unheard of, unfathomable, often fantasy-based scenarios. Some of them will necessarily torment you with worry, anxiety, insecurity and fear. There is a pretty simple way to deal with these debilitating emotions.
In every situation that makes me fearful, I ask myself what is the worst that can happen. And I tell my mind that I am ready and willing for that eventuality. For instance, in a matter relating to a police complaint filed against me, by my creditor, it had become evident that if the court disallowed my bail application, I would be arrested and remanded in custody. I asked my lawyer if there was a way out. He said that there was none since I did not have money to furnish a personal surety (a financial bond). This situation was unfolding in another city. Honestly, I was feeling very restless and fearful. So, I took a deep breath and called up Vaani. I briefed her of the logical, practical reality we were faced with. And then I told her, “Listen, I will stay strong where I am and wherever I have to go. You stay strong too. A way will be born soon.” Just that acceptance of whatever our reality was at that moment – that I will be arrested, so be it! – changed the way I felt. I became fearless. In another situation, when I was diagnosed with a possible life-threatening health condition, I considered the worst that could happen to me if we didn’t find the money to get a surgery done. I would die, I reckoned. The whole scenario of my impending death unfolded in my mind’s eye and I actually started smiling. Of course, all of us will die, I remember thinking. “And this was perhaps my time to die,” I had concluded. That thought actually made me feel lighter – and totally fearless. From then on, whenever I am faced with any no-go situation – and I have to deal with several of them each week – I remind myself that “I was once even prepared to die”. Whenever I do this, my fear always slinks away.
Guts and glory are mere perceptions. The reality is in experiences and in learning from them. It’s through the experiencing and the learning that the soul is enriched.
When we watch a movie and admire a hero for the way he or she has fought for justice, against perpetrators of evil or crime or injustice, we come back feeling good. We loved the movie. But we don’t really think any of it is real. Because it’s just a story enacted for our entertainment. In real Life when we meet the actor, we do say we admire him or her and their ‘acting’. We know little about who they really are for us to be able to see the person behind the actor.
So it is with real Life heroism. Often people look at others around them and call them courageous and celebrate their valor or the stance they have taken in Life on fighting injustice or simply meeting a challenge head on. Someone who has found a deadly disease like cancer is often seen as a champion. Someone who has lived on despite the passing away of a loved one is believed to be very bold. Someone who fights injustice is seen as a ‘fearless’ crusader. And someone who refuses to run away from a seemingly impossible situation is believed to be incredibly resilient.
To be sure, everyone who has ever lived has had to encounter fear. Fear spares no one. Interestingly though all of us have the ability to be courageous. Because courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is what fear delivers when you face up to the fear. Because only when you face up to something, will you realize that it cannot harm you. Only what you run away from chases you, haunts you.
In a health challenge like cancer, you can feel fearful of death. But as long as you run scared of death, it will torment you. But the moment you discover that death is a non-negotiable eventuality that all of us who are born have to confront, you will no longer fear death. Then you start living. And despite your speeding to death, owing to your personal situation, you begin to feel blessed that at least you reasonably know how much time you have left to live. And you start investing in the living than obsess with the dying. Fear of death has delivered to you the ability__courage__to live simply because you stopped running away from death.
This is true with every Life situation. The more you run away from a problem, the more fearful you will be. When you face it, the problem, even if it doesn’t go away, will at least stop tormenting you. So, face your fears. It is from facing them that you become courageous!
Live without fear. It is fear that robs us of our ability to live freely.
We fear everything. Darkness. Loss of money. Death. Breakdown in relationships. Expectations not being met. Loss of face. Reputation. How can we claim to be alive when are operating under the influence of a debilitating, restricting force?
The best way to expunge fear is to ask yourself ‘what is the worst that can happen’ in any given situation and decide to face that moment. When you make that decision to confront a situation, when you walk up to it, fear will recede. Fear is actually a toothless opponent. Fear fears reality. And you, the real you, are the truth. But you think someone is more powerful than you. You think if you lose money you are finished. You think if you die, it’s all over. You think if a business contract does not come through you will be bankrupt. You think if someone says something about you in public, your reputation will be lost. But if you, in each of these situations, decide to not worry about the outcomes, will fear still torment you? Suppose you say, let the most powerful man on the planet come to you, and you will be unmoved, unfazed; what can happen to you? Maybe that man may come and kill you? Let him. Then where’s your fear? The truth is the man can kill your body, not you. Suppose you are willing to live a Life beyond and after losing all your money, what need you be afraid of? If something is hounding you, haunting you just now, be sure, be aware, that you are allowing it to do so. Your spouse is not an issue. But your thought of your spouse being unfaithful, your expectation of loyalty, your fear of being led up the garden path and being stranded alone, this is your problem. So, who should deal with this problem? You. And the best way to do it is to say, “So, what?” Say that and you are free no sooner than you have uttered those magical words. They are like a miracle mantra. Use them in any situation and you will be fearless.
Between you and fearlessness lies your awareness of your true Self. Fear has heaped layer after layer of deception and controls you this way. When you realize you are not your body, you are not your relationship, you are not your job, you are not your business, you are not your bank account, this awareness is liberating. Your true Self then emerges and fear, meekly, slinks away, drowned in the light of your awakening.
Living with uncertainty is not something be afraid of. The very nature of Life is uncertain. So, why be afraid?
It is your conditioning and education that makes you imagine that everything in Life is going per your plan. But in reality Life is happening at its own pace, with its own themes and contexts for you, and you have only been adapting to it. You don’t see Life this way until you rupture a blood vessel in you or until someone you love dies or until you are rendered jobless or until you are placed in a situation that defies all reason and logic. That’s when you realize that things are not in your control. Actually, nothing was ever in your control. You just thought so – you just imagined you were controlling your Life. Now, fear sets in because your mind tells you that you are not in control. You don’t know what will happen. And your mind whips up imagined situations. So, if you have a health challenge, your mind will tell you that you are going to die. Or if you have lost someone you love, your mind will tell you that it is impossible to be lonely. When you are without a job, your mind will tell you that you are going to run out of your savings and that your family’s living standards are going to be affected. But think deeply – when did Life give you any guarantee that your Life will be this way or that way? When was Life certain? Around you, in your family, people have been dealing with the inscrutability of Life. Haven’t you suddenly seen a whole plane – MH 370 – disappear with none of the world’s technologies or super powers being able to trace it? You see this tryst with uncertainty happening around you, all the time, but when you are confronted with it, you fear it. Why?
Drop the expectation that you must know how your Life will be. Just learn to live with what is. When you do this you become free from anxiety and worry. Remember what the essence of the Bhagavad Gita – “What have you lost for which you weep? What did you bring with you, which you have lost? What did you produce, which has perished? You did not bring anything when you were born. Whatever you have taken, it is taken from here. Whatever you have given, it is given here. You came empty-handed and you will go the same way.” If you understand this truism about Life, you will become fearless. You can be fearless when you understand the impermanent and transient nature of Life. Then you will learn to be detached from everything – from your wealth, your qualifications, your relationships, your living standards, your fame and from everything that holds you hostage. You will then be free.
Getting to this state of awareness and detachment is not difficult. It is simple. You just have to stop imposing conditions on Life. And you must stop fearing the unknown. Just be adventurous. Life is happening to you now – take the plunge and savor every moment. Don’t question. Don’t resist. Don’t fear. Just be and take it as it comes.
There is nothing to fear in Life. And, in fact, no one to fear. All you have to ask is – “What am I afraid of?” – and you will be fearless.
Fearlessness comes from a deeper understanding of the Self. Of knowing that everything is transient. Impermanent. This Life, your name, your acquisitions, your fame, your wealth, your relationships and your memories of the Life you have lived – everything, absolutely everything, will become irrelevant, when you die. So, all the feelings of insecurity, anxiety and fear that grip you in everyday Life situations are meaningless. Just let go and accept Life’s transient nature. You too will discover that there’s nothing to be afraid of – and no point in being afraid of anything!
Here’s a popular Zen story on fear that Osho, the Master, used to narrate. A man walking in the night slipped and fell from a rocky path, at the edge of a precipice. Afraid he would fall down thousands of feet, because he knew that just at the edge of the path was a very deep valley, he grabbed hold of a branch of a tree that was growing out of the edge of the precipice. In the darkness of the night all he could see below him was a bottomless abyss. He shouted for help and his own shouts echoed back – there was nobody to hear him or come to his rescue. You can imagine that man, and his night of torture. Every moment there was death below, his hands were becoming cold, he was losing his grip…but he managed to hold on, and as the sun came out he looked down…and he laughed! There was no abyss. Just six inches below his feet there was a rock ledge. He could have rested the whole night and slept well. The ledge was big enough – but instead, because he was afraid of the imaginary abyss and the whole night had been a nightmare.
Osho says it is entirely up to you whether you want to, metaphorically, cling on to “your branches and spend whole nights in fear” or if you really want to “let go and land on your own feet”. The import here is not to say that you must foolishly plunge into an unknown abyss. What is being said here is that when you can address Life deeply and know that everything that you are afraid of losing, including your Life, will at some point be taken away from you, then you turn fearless and live your Life freely – and fully!
To be sure, fearlessness is not being without fear. In fact, everyone – anyone – will have fear. Fearlessness comes when you can face your fears, and through your understanding of Life, reason with your fears and realize that being fearful is pointless. This understanding will lead you to appreciate Life better – that all that you fear losing will perish including your body, but the real you, your true Self, who you don’t quite think about or relate to, will carry on, as it is immortal and, therefore, fearless!
Being humble, yielding, in times of adversity, is being courageous. That’s when you emerge “cleansed” and “stronger”!
There’s an ancient Chinese analogy for understanding courage, for demystifying the popular perceptions we have of this magical quality which we all possess but don’t summon, don’t use. Imagine a 3000-year-old ancient tree, 300-feet high. The very sight, the presence of this tree gives strength, denotes power. But a huge storm, like Nilam, can__and often will__ uproot this tree. When the storm blows over, the tree which, obviously logically aware of its might and power, fought and refused to surrender, lies defeated, uprooted and felled. Whereas the blades of grass at the foot of the tree and around it, remain un-uprooted. Imagine the meek, easy-to-yank-out blades of grass, being able to withstand a whole night of fury. And after yielding to the storm, allowing the storm to ‘cleanse’ them, the blades of grass are again looking fresh and dancing in the early morning sunlight, with little drops of dew adorning their tips like crown jewels. That’s illogical, right? The mighty tree has been felled and the meek grass lives on, happy, blissful! And yet, this is what happens. This is what courage is all about. The tree showed logic and operated from its head__its knowledge of its strength and its ‘unyielding nature’ is what felled it, not the storm really. On the other hand, the grass showed tremendous mindfulness, ‘yielding’ happily when the storm raged and finding the song in its heart back the next morning! Between the two, the grass showed courage.
Courage is not fearlessness. Courage means going all the way despite the fear, in spite of the unknown. The storm represents the phase that sometimes we encounter in Life. And the tree represents those who operate from too much logic, too much ego, too much unwillingness to change. And the grass is the inspiration for all of us__to be willing to let go, surrender, yield, so that our inner equilibrium remains undisturbed despite the huge storm raging outside. Courage is therefore choosing the way of the grass__to NOT treat Life as something to be conquered, defeated, but to yield humbly, intelligently, and to go with the flow!
You can have faith or you can be in fear. You can’t have both!
Human beings are the only aspect of creation that can think – and hence we know that death awaits us sometime in the future. So starting with the fear of death, we fear every outcome that we dislike. Again humans are the only species that is religious – and so there are matters of faith for all of us that are sacrosanct. So, the question really is, why is it that we go on fearing, something or the other, while claiming that we have faith?
Now there is nothing wrong with fear or with being in fear. It is a natural emotion. You must allow it to rise within you. But you must also understand it completely. What are you afraid of? Examine your fear. And replace your fear with faith. Now, by popular definition and conditioning, faith is in an external, all-powerful God – the one who has created you and the Universe. So, if there is an acceptance in you that this God is more powerful than you, and which is why you have faith in this God, then why fear anything that may happen to you? Even more simply, since your creation, this lifetime, is a gift to you – you didn’t ask to born, right? – you must believe that you will be looked after and provided for by Life, or if you like, by your God. When you understand this, you will understand that the fear, anxiety, worry, apprehension in you is futile.
True fearlessness is not just your ability to face up to anyone or any situation in Life. True fearlessness is not the ability to take risks or to claim that you are not afraid of death. True fearlessness is the absence of fear – caused by a complete understanding of Life, of creation. It means knowing that there is no point in being attached or fear losing anything impermanent, perishable – and that includes Life itself. True fearlessness is faith. It makes living interesting and blissful!
Life’s arduous situations can break you physically, can make you immobile, can cripple you – but they cannot break your spirit, they cannot puncture your conviction, if you simply choose to remain strong from within! But how do you remain strong from within when there’s absolutely no respite from the outside? Say, when your Life is hanging by a thin thread owing to a terminal health condition, or when you are caught in a legal maze and there’s no way out, or when your business has gone bust and you simply don’t have any money to even meet your daily needs, or when your separation from your spouse has drained you emotionally, financially, physically and you have lost your will to live? Where do you draw strength from in such, and other debilitating, circumstances, where you are consumed by fear, self-doubt and hopelessness?
Interestingly, you must leverage your fear to gain courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is what you get by looking your fear in the eye, by accepting it, and deciding to face it. In reality, a courageous person is also fearful of consequences that logically appear to be on the horizon. But while she or he is fearful from within, she or he is able to pull herself or himself together on the outside. A coward, on the other hand, is both fearful from within and on the outside. But if you can leverage your courage, while becoming more aware, you can attain fearlessness. And fearlessness is not an outward emotion. It is the complete attainment of freedom from fear – within! That will happen, that can happen, only when you realize the true nature of your inner being. When you know that your soul is untouchable, unbreakable and immortal.
Let’s understand this better. All the world’s scriptures talk of this truth. Yet why do you still fear things, people, events in your Life, despite perhaps, knowing and believing this doctrine to be true? Because you haven’t allowed your inner being, your soul, to experience this truth. Examine all your fears. They are always about losing all that you already know as impermanent – your job, your money, your health, your relationships! What kind of intelligence are you, the much educated you, displaying when you are fearful of threats to any of these impermanent aspects of your Life? Someone says you will die because of your health condition – and you are afraid of death? Someone says she will leave you for whatever reason – and you are afraid of losing her? Someone says you will be sacked for non-performance – and you are scared of unemployment? Someone says you will be convicted and sentenced – and you are afraid of imprisonment? But aren’t you already imprisoned, held hostage, by your fear(s)? Think deeply about this. Everything about your Life so far and the rest of your Life will be taken away from you sooner or later. If it is the fear of losing all that you hold on to that’s keeping you anxious, agonized and fearful, then know that your fears are fully justified. What you fear most will surely happen to you. Sooner or later. Including your death! It is only when you experience this realization, this awakening, at the core of your inner being, in your soul, will you be free from fear. Will you be fearless from within. Will you be free.
Review whatever’s making you insecure. Focus on what you fear. And peel away each fear by asking yourself, ‘So what if this (that which you fear most) happens?’ When you get an answer to this question, ask yourself this question again, in the context of your answer, and so on. Keep going until you have no more answers. For instance, ‘What will happen after I die?’ does not have an immediate known answer. Yes, conjecturally, from what the scriptures tell us, the answer could be that ‘your soul is set free’. And so what if the soul is set free? Or if it is trapped somewhere, someplace? Will it matter to the person that you are currently? Since it won’t, why labor over your fears? So, whatever be the situation confronting you just now, don’t resist it, simply accept it for what it is. And know that since your spirit can never be broken or taken away from you, anything that’s happening to you, therefore, is not at all relevant! So be fearless. Be free!